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Danny Baker's on-air exit

The sacking of star presenters is nothing new, writes Antonia Quirke.

The Treehouse
BBC London 94.9

Another week, another sacking. This time, Danny Baker, whose afternoon show The Treehouse on BBC London 94.9 (weekdays, 3pm), is for the bin. Clumsily informed by bosses “indirectly”, he immediately took to Twitter to vent at middle management, pointing out, a little brattishly, the very large number of meeting rooms in the new BBC citadel in Portland Place compared to actual studios. (I was in that building the other day and noticed a central board giving directions to these meeting rooms, now jauntily called things like “Del Boy” and “Dot Cotton”. A passing producer mourned that he regularly opens emails demanding “See you in Mr Darcy in 10”. Now that is cruel.)

You don’t need me to tell you that Baker – who thus far keeps his Saturday morning show on Radio 5 Live – is one of the greatest natural broadcasters there has ever been. A courageously principled, super-articulate guy. I remember Julie Burchill telling a story about being in the Marquee at a punk gig with Baker the moment the news came through that Elvis had died. When all the punks started cheering, Baker leapt on to the stage and fearlessly remonstrated with the bastards.

Last week, it was the Radio 2 folk presenter Mike Harding who found himself rendered verboten. Harding is one of the only broadcasters so unselfconsciously straightforward as to say, as he did a few shows back, “I’m playing this because Kathleen has got such a wonderful, soulful voice. This is the opening track and I hope I got the Gaelic pronunciation right.” After 22 years with the station, he was apparently sacked with a quick phone call.

But it was ever, ever thus at the BBC. I’ve attended more outraged leaving dos – from Kaleidoscope to The Afternoon Shift – than I can remember. Not a carriage clock in sight. Don’t kid yourselves that this kind of thing is new, or that it’s getting worse. It’s simply that people feel a very particular loyalty to state enterprises (it’s even worse at the NHS) and so are doubly stunned to find themselves treated as though they were being booted out of a private company. There will (continue to) be blood.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.